Puncher’s chance is an old adage in boxing.
Typically offered as a respectful nod to the possibility of victory for an otherwise solid professional, what it really means is something else.
When people say puncher’s chance, what they’re probably really saying is “I don’t think that dude has a chance in hell.”
This Saturday (ESPN, 3:30 PM EST) 31-year old Anthony Yarde (23-2, 22 KO) will challenge lineal and unified WBC/IBF/WBO light heavyweight kingpin Artur Beterbiev (18-0, 18 KO). It will be Yarde’s second crack at a light heavyweight belt, his first ending in a knockout loss to Sergey Kovalev in 2019. Yarde is 5-1 since, avenging his only other loss with a knockout of Lyndon Arthur in late-2021.
According to Tom Gray at the Sporting News, some books have Beterbiev as heavy as a -1000 favorite. Yarde is taller, younger, and nearly as consistent at scoring knockouts, but Beterbiev has beaten the better opposition and is riding a wave of wins that include Oleksandr Gvozdyk, Marcus Browne, and Joe Smith.
Yarde has a puncher’s chance.
That might not be much of a chance at all.
This weekend, it’s a chance worth paying attention to anyways. The fight itself should be entertaining from bell to bell, and there’s little reason to expect to hear one sounding at the end of the twelfth round. Yarde has a home field in Wembley so the event atmosphere will be part of the fun. A clash of two huge punchers doesn’t need to be 50-50 heading in to have drama. It needs the leather to fly.
There’s another reason Yarde’s chance is worth paying attention to for fight fans with an eye on the future.
The boxing calendar is already filling up with wonderful matches in the first half of 2023. It appears we have Stephen Fulton-Naoya Inoue, Tank Davis-Ryan Garcia, and Devin Haney-Vasyl Lomachenko on tap. Tim Tszyu will face former titlist Tony Harrison while trying to keep his place as a challenger to Jr. middleweight king Jermell Charlo. Tyson Fury-Oleksandr Usyk continues to be dangled about as getting closer. That’s quality action at multiple spots on the scale.
What isn’t on the docket yet is something big at light heavyweight. If Beterbiev overcomes Yarde’s puncher’s chance Saturday, we’re ultimately right where we started at 175 pounds.
The division is a two-horse race right now. Beterbiev is running in one lane. WBA titlist Dmitry Bivol (21-0, 11 KO), 32, is in the other. Bivol earned acclaim across much of boxing media as 2022’s “Fighter of the Year” after his masterful befuddling of Saul Alvarez and dominant win over undefeated Gilberto Ramirez.
This has been the best fight to make, in the ring if not as certainly at the box office, at light heavyweight for a couple of years. With each new victory added, the lack of a Beterbiev-Bivol showdown becomes more glaring.
It’s not the first “best” fight at light heavyweight to linger on for years without resolution in the last generation or so. Despite being recognized as the top two in class for roughly five years, boxing fans never saw Roy Jones-Dariusz Michalczewski. Whether both on HBO, or separated by network divides, a duel between Kovalev and Adonis Stevenson passed into the realm of mythical matches.
Beterbiev competes under the Top Rank umbrella on ESPN. Bivol has been doing business on DAZN with promoter Eddie Hearn. There are obstacles to the fight.
It’s still THE fight.
Unless Yarde can turn a puncher’s chance into a facelift for everything we think we know about the light heavyweight division.
Add another quality fight to the schedule. The Jr. featherweight resurgence is happening because fighters are making fights. Luis Nery-Azat Hovhannisyan is a serious top ten clash in the division…Anthony Joshua-Jermaine Franklin feels like the beginning of a rebuilding phase for Joshua. Joshua is some ways may be a victim of the level of fame he achieved before he truly finished to develop as a professional. It may be too late now but Franklin is a smart place to start…Does anyone want to challenge Regis Prograis at Jr. welterweight? Jose Ramirez and Teofimo Lopez seem to have anything else to do.
Cliff Rold is the Managing Editor of BoxingScene, a founding member of the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board, a member of the International Boxing Research Organization, and a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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